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Island of Death
"They don't make them like they used to." It's a common refrain, and perhaps it is relevant to Nico Mastorakis' 1976 exploitation masterpiece Island of Death, except it's fairer to say that no one ever made them like this, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
After seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a friend and hearing how much money it made, Mastorakis decided that he would make a movie for even cheaper, and have it be even more outrageous, believing he was sure to make a profit. He was right.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a couple, Christopher and Celia (Robert Behling and Jane Lyle) who travel to Mykonos in search of some kicks. Unfortunately, the kind of kicks they enjoy are not exactly in line with the current mores of the tiny island they are visiting. Christopher in particular is a religious fundamentalist (though hypocritically violating Christian moral precepts on a daily basis) and he enjoys raining down vengeance on those he considers immoral. He starts off with a French painter, who makes love with Celia outside of a church he's painting, even though he believes her to be married to Christopher. The appropriate punishment for this peccadillo? Crucifixion and forced ingestion of paint, of course.
Christopher and Celia wreak havoc through the island, all the while laying the blame elsewhere or misdirecting inquiries. Their relationship begins to fray, though, as Celia is not as enthusiastic about their adventures, though she certainly joins in readily enough. They kill a gay couple, a lesbian heroin addict, and an older woman who trolls the town for young men. Their lives are chaotic, and they are suspected by some at least. Their adventures do not end well.
There isn't really a story to Island of Death, more just a series of sexual adventures punctuated by violence. It doesn't make sense, and isn't necessarily meant to. There isn't a philosophical underpinning to the film. Mastorakis has said that he just threw in what he thought would be shocking and marketable. As a result, the film is surprisingly nihilist. The murderous couple do get their comeuppance, but not in a way that really implies that they had it coming. It's just another random event in a chaotic universe. In no sense do the "good guys" win. And that's not really the point. From a certain perspective, Island of Death isn't a work of art at all. It was a commercial endeavor from day one. It does exist as a historical curio, and there is value in that. And the people who seek this out aren't necessarily looking for meaning.
Island of Death is interesting, but it goes places unashamedly, that most films don't, even in our jaded environment today. This is a full throttle exploitation film, and if that's not a genre you enjoy, I'd advise you to steer clear. For fans of the genre, this is a must see film, if only once. Recommended, but mostly for true fans.
The image is 1.37:1, but looks good regardless. The colors are rich and deep, and the whites are super bright. There is a bit of grain, but it doesn't really detract from the experience. There are minor issues from time to time, but this is a really great presentation of the Blu-Ray from Arrow.
The audio is LPCM 1 channel, and mostly sounds good. There is a bit of twang on occasion, but the dialogue is always clearly audible and no hiss or other problem can be heard. There are a couple of minor issues with the included English subtitles, but mostly they're fine. No alternate language track is included. The music, much of it co-written by Mastorakis, is great, a sort of gonzo folk music, and is well presented.
There are a lot of extras included, a real boon for fans. They are:
The booklet includes a long essay by Johnny Walker and a description of the restoration done for this release. It's definitely worth a read.
Exploring Island of Death
This featurette goes into detail about the film and Mastorakis' career. He had worked successfully in Greek television previously, and went on to make quite a few B movies, including Blood Tide and Nightmare at Noon.
Return to Island of Death
In this seventeen minute featurette, Mastorakis returns to Mykonos and visits many of the original locations for the film. He talks about shooting day for night, and assures us that the goat was not really killed.
Nico Mastorakis Interview
This interview is about twenty four minutes long. He talks about Island of Death and the reasons he made it. He states emphatically that he is not ashamed for having made the movie, and speaks about his two stars.
Alternate Opening Titles
A couple of alternate opening credit sequences are shown, from the various titles it was released under.
Twenty four minutes of the various folk songs that make up the soundtrack. These are actually quite good.
Original Theatrical Trailer
This is a mediocre trailer.
Nico Mastorakis Trailer Reel
Thirty four minutes of trailers for Mastorakis' films. Most of them are cheesy, but they look fun. They include Blind Date, The Zero Boys, Glitch and many more.
The Films of Nico Mastorakis
This is a four part series, lasting over two hours, which reviews all of the films that Mastorakis made. He narrates and has a lot of anecdotes about his experiences. Long clips from the films are included, as well as behind the scenes footage and photos, and a few interviews. The interviews with George Kennedy and Brion James are particularly interesting. This is exhaustive but a real treat for fans of the man.
Island of Death is a film that many people will not enjoy, but that the tiny sliver of hardcore exploitation fans will go nuts over. Writer / director Nico Mastorakis pulled no punches and delivered an insane, hard charging movie. If you are one of those folks who love exploitation films of the seventies, grab this now. Arrow Video has done a bang up job on the restoration and extras. This is a great presentation of this historically important film.